This is the story of our son Gabriel, who was born with Down syndrome and was truly a special child. Although Gabriel only lived on this earth for two years and four months, the Lord used him to touch many other lives and to teach us innumerable precious lessons of love, faith, conviction, endurance, compassion, humility, courage, prayerfulness, and the reality of Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God.”
On the way home after an evening outing with some friends, I asked my youngest if he had a good time.
“Sort of,” he answered. “But the kids on the playground were teasing me.”
“About what?” I asked. He sometimes reacts strongly to comments, so I assumed it wasn’t a big deal.
My nine- and ten-year-olds came whining to me again.
“Mommy, Chalsey’s taking all the LEGO blocks!”
“Davin always gets the best pieces!”
Kristy, my five-year-old, was crying. “It’s not fair! I want to build an airplane, but they won’t let me.”
I think I have been guilty of saying “I’m sorry” too much, and that seems to have given my children the wrong idea. Years ago, for example, when my five-year-old fell off his bike, I said I was sorry. I had specifically told him to not ride up the hill on his newly acquired used bike until his dad had checked the brakes and taught him to use them, but he went up the hill anyway.
While living in Gambia, West Africa, my five-year-old son Chris and I went on a trip to the village of Sintet, where our group of volunteers from the Family International was helping to build a school.
I had enjoyed the thrilling tales told by co-workers who had returned from there, so when I heard that a team needed to make a one-and-a-half-day trip to the village I jumped at the chance to go.
I had been praying for my son, Denith, to develop a close and personal relationship with Jesus while he was young, capitalizing on how much faith and capacity to believe two-year-olds have. I prayed that he wouldn’t only come to know Jesus as his Savior, but also as the close and personal Friend that Jesus desires to be to everyone. I wanted Denith to sense His Spirit and to hear His voice.
One night something very special happened that encouraged me and made me determined to teach my son more about how to hear from Jesus on his own.
My grandpa used to say, “If you see well-behaved children, you can be sure that someone is using both hands in bringing them up—the right hand of love and the left hand of discipline.” In the 25 years that I have been a teacher, that maxim has been a cornerstone of my daily interactions with my students.
Perhaps you’ve heard the analogy that likens youngsters to small plants. Plants need water and sunshine, but they also need attention in the form of fertilizing, pruning, fumigating, transplanting to larger pots, etc.—attention that requires work on the part of the gardener and can be a temporary shock for the plant. In the case of young people, that means giving them tender loving care first and foremost, while not neglecting the other things that are necessary parts of character building, like providing a healthy environment for their social development and emotional and spiritual growth, setting limits, teaching them to take responsibility for their actions, and allowing them to learn through suffering the consequences of their own poor decisions, if necessary. These more difficult aspects of parenting and mentoring are usually also the ones that are the most difficult for young people to accept, especially in the beginning, but we owe it to them and to God, to whom they and we will ultimately need to give account of our lives.
When my husband Sam and I had only one child, I thought I had a handle on parenting. I needed to adapt and bend and give up some of my independence, but not too much. I was absolutely on top of Cade’s appearance, and he never wore dirty, stained, or soiled clothes. Cade was very “portable,” and we toted him with us wherever we went. When something needed to get done, we calmly set out to do it and got it done. I knew things would get harder as we had more children, but I wasn’t worried; I was pretty good at this.
Brooke arrived next. Brooke was an angel of a baby, waking only to gurgle and coo, and putting herself back to sleep. I had gained less weight during that pregnancy, so I was back in shape in no time. If I could ace it with two, I reasoned, I could handle anything. I was at the top of my game.